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Review of Middle East Economics and Finance

Ed. by Dibeh, Ghassan / Assaf, Ata / Cobham, David / Hakimian, Hassan / Henry, Clement M.

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Volume 9, Issue 3

Female Labour Force Participation in the MENA Region: The Role of Identity

Bernd Hayo / Tobias Caris
Published Online: 2013-12-12 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/rmeef-2013-0021


We investigate why female labour market participation is low in the MENA region. Utilising Akerlof and Kranton’s (2000) “identity economics” approach, we show in a simple game-theoretic framework that women socialised in a traditional family environment violate their identities by taking a job. In the empirical analysis, we study the respective impact of two determinants of identity in the MENA region, Islam and cultural tradition. Employing two waves of the World Values Survey, we find significant evidence that identity affects female labour market participation. Moreover, our estimates suggest that in the MENA region, Muslim women do not participate in the labour market less than non-Muslim women, whereas those with strong traditional identities have a 5 percentage point lower probability of entering the labour market.

Keywords: female labour market participation; MENA region; Islam; identity; religion

JEL: J16; J21; Z12; Z13; O53


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About the article

Published Online: 2013-12-12

In the 2005 wave of the WVS, for Morocco the question referring to the frequency of attending religious services is missing and for Jordan the employment status is not recorded.

The classification was made based on the information about religion provided by the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion) [accessed on 21 June 2012].

http://siteresources.worldbank.org/DATASTATISTICS/Resources/CLASS.XLS [accessed 21 June 2012].

A possibility not covered in the estimates shown in Table 2 is that the degree of importance of religion in people’s lives may affect the impact of Islam in the MENA region. Investigating this potential channel using a three-way interaction variable does not yield significant results, neither when concentrating on those for whom religion is very important nor when also considering those for whom religion is relatively important. Thus, we conclude that the stated importance of religion does not affect female labour market participation. Omitted results are available on request.

Citation Information: Review of Middle East Economics and Finance, Volume 9, Issue 3, Pages 271–292, ISSN (Online) 1475-3693, ISSN (Print) 1475-3685, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/rmeef-2013-0021.

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